Dennis and Roberta Licklider’s office at their Holts Summit home is lined with mementos from their more than 30-year career coaching at Jefferson City High School.
Dennis’ multiple football district and state title plaques hang next to accolades of the JCHS varsity volleyball team, in which Roberta coached. Serious action shots of their own children competing as athletes hang next to candid smiles of student athletes and fellow coaches. Scenes of head track coach Dennis and assistant girls track coach Roberta on the sidelines of the now JCHS track named after them hang next to a photo montage from the induction ceremony welcoming Dennis and Roberta into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2013, four years after they retired.
These keepsakes are just a few of their most prized possessions from successful, award-filled careers. However, one file folder holds items that also touch Roberta’s heart every time she opens it. That folder contains notes, letters and cards from former athletes and students, expressing how she made a difference in their lives.
“I remember getting one from a girl who is now a lawyer, and she was one of the first kids I coached in volleyball and track when I first started teaching. I opened it up and it said, ‘ … thank you so much for teaching me dedication and hard work, and I would have never been able to complete law school without the example you set,’” Roberta said. “Those are the things when I’m having a down day or not feeling good, I open that little folder and read some of those things. … It’s like the saying: ‘You never know the impact you have until later on, so you better make it a good one.’”
That positive impact continues for the Lickliders since retiring in 2009, often hearing from former students and athletes through social media and seeing them while traveling across the country. Roberta’s passion for education has not halted, having been involved with the homebound education program and currently substitute teaching for Jefferson City Public Schools.
The imprint the students and athletes have made on them is just as significant.
“It is a wonderful profession and a wonderful life. You will learn more from teaching and coaching the kids than you would from any book,” she said. “You truly get more than you give.”
A Jefferson City native, Roberta graduated from Helias Catholic High School in 1972, the same year Title IX of the Education Amendment, an important federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded program or activity, was passed.
“Things were much more defined boy and girl when I started and finished high school,” she said. “Now they have everything and wonderful programs for boys and girls.”
Cheerleading was a sport Roberta could join, and she also got involved in other extracurricular activities such as being a junior auxiliary member at St. Mary’s Hospital and playing clarinet in the school band. She enjoyed her time in high school, and college was a great platform for her future in education and athletics. She joined the tennis team and graduated from then Central Missouri State University in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in education and secondary physical education major, and minor in psychology.
“I wanted to major in physical education mostly from the beginning. I felt like girls got left behind activity wise. When I went to college and saw everything that was offered, I looked back on the physical education I had and I was behind the other kids. … Education was a great choice. The kids keep you young all the time and you work very hard,” she said. “That is what is interesting about my career in physical education, I graduated high school when Title IX was passed, went to college and got to see the implementation of all the sports that we had. It was very nice to see the growth of women’s sports in high school.”
That career as a physical education teacher began back home at Jefferson City High School the same year she graduated college. By that time a variety of different activities were offered, including badminton, softball, basketball, volleyball, running, weightlifting, and, one of Roberta’s favorites, dance.
“I had a book of 350 some folk dances, so if I would get bored teaching certain ones, I would pull others out, learn them and bring them to class,” she said, noting she primarily taught square and folk dance at first, adding modern and ballroom dancing to her curriculum after one of the longtime P.E. teachers who implemented many of the programs retired. “I was very lucky in my teaching career that I would do something for awhile and … change up, and do something for awhile and change up. I was always having to learn new things,” she said.
Some of her favorite moments from teaching were when the kids not only worked hard and got it, but when the students worked together to help each other learn.
“We had a young man who was blind, and he was in the same square during square dance every day with the same kid. I would dance him through the steps and his partner would come in and do it. The kids he was with would grab him if he was going the wrong direction,” she said. “He had great listening skills. It was wonderful to see seven kids who were not blind work with him and give him a degree of success that he would not have probably had on his own.”
The positive impression Roberta has made on her students caught the eye of fellow staff and administration. They asked Roberta to coach track her first year of teaching, and after some persuading she became the assistant girls track coach her second year at Jefferson City High School. A few years later she became volleyball head coach, keeping that position for 12 years until she started having children – Ross, Ben and Maggie.
Her success in coaching came with delivering a winning attitude and training of her own. With her volleyball teams, she learned right along with the athletes.
“When I look back I did not know that much about volleyball. I had to learn and the athletes were just marvelous to me. I played tennis in college and I thought well it’s just a net sport. The net is just a little higher, but you want the ball to go over the net,” she said with laughter. “I went to clinics, read books, asked people and watched other teams. … The kids were very accepting and I found out you need to be honest and up front with kids, saying ‘I don’t know but I’ll find out.’ You never say, ‘Oh yes this is how you do it’ because it will come back to haunt you.”
As she worked hard to develop a fun, quality volleyball program, Roberta saw the perseverance the young ladies put forth. She recalled taking the team to the Meramec Tournament in St. Louis, and her best hitter, Karen Rapier, sprained her ankle at practice that Friday. The team battled their way through the first round of tournament play, but without Rapier they had receded to eighth out of 18 teams.
“But we were having fun. The girls got to the spend the night and go out to eat. Karen looked at me and said, ‘I can play tomorrow.’ I said, ‘Are you sure? We got the rest of the season ahead of us.’ She said, ‘I’ll be good,’” Roberta said. Sure enough, Rapier helped lead her team to a second place finish with Eldon High School’s volleyball team taking first that year.
“That was one of my favorite memories of volleyball. We weren’t expected to do anything and we placed second. That is not what you aim for, but it was pretty good for us,” she said. Her time coaching the volleyball team included many wonderful experiences, such as winning the district title the same year as the Meramec Tournament.
Roberta’s drive to encourage her athletes also translated to the Lady Jays track team. She credits her fellow coaching staff for helping her with warm-ups, workouts and training, a learning process she said didn’t quit until she retired.
Roberta started her track coaching career with girls who did sprints, hurdles and the long jump and triple jump. When Dennis came to Jefferson City High School during Roberta’s first year coaching track, he had already implemented some things with the male pole vaulters and hurdlers.
“When he became head coach in 1986, he implemented those same things to all the boys and the girls. He was very good about equality. The boys were going to lift, the girls were going to lift, too. The same with workouts. We had about 60-80 kids every year, so you really had to plan,” she said.
Once Dennis took lead with the Jays track team, Roberta also converted her assistant girls track coach position to oversee about 30 girls who competed in short sprints and relays, basically 400-meter and lower. A boys sprint coach also had the same amount.
“The girls have enjoyed it, because they were treated like athletes. They weren’t treated like girls doing a sport. They were athletes in their own right. That was nice to see,” she said.
Under Dennis’ leadership, Roberta and her fellow coaches saw some incredible accolades for the Jays and Lady Jays track athletes, as well as tools that improved their coaching abilities and athletes’ performance.
Roberta said one of the most impactful moments in her coaching career was attending the level 2 track school at University of Missouri in Columbia during the 1995-96 school year. During an eight-day period, the coaching staff clocked 75 hours learning biomechanics, physiology, training theory and psychological coaching. They took a test on what they learned, advancing to a clinic where they could apply those tactics to track and field.
In 1997, the coaching staff implemented their training, resulting in Roberta’s Lady Jays sprinters completing 20 400-meter runs two times a week. Even though the techniques were the same, the extra “recovery workouts” gave them a boost of confidence to push through their sprint races and finish strong.
Roberta said the team did OK that first year. Then, in 1998, the Lady Jays won the state title, as they did again in 1999.
“We had a down year, and then were back up on the podium in 2001 and 2002, winning state in 2003, second in 2004 and four consecutive state championships from 2005 to 2008,” she said. “My kids just embraced that whole new training regiment and they just took off. … It was amazing you could take the sciences and psychology, and put it into your training. And it worked.”
There are times that adjustments needed to be made while teaching or coaching, and Roberta recognized she learned all the time as an educator.
“If something doesn’t work and you are not where you think you should be or exceeding your expectations, you have to go back and rework it. My husband was great at that. He was the driving force behind all the championships and all the kids that have medals,” she said. “I would be remiss if I didn’t say how great my success was due to him being the head coach. … I know my kids were successful and I did a good job with them, but I know that somebody was standing behind me, supporting me.”
“He is also a wonderful man, a wonderful husband, a wonderful father and a wonderful provider. I don’t know why the Lord was looking over me and blessing me, but he did with Dennis.”
The couple met in the high school cafeteria, and dated for six years before getting married. Dennis’ daughter Erin and her half-sister Jill from Erin’s mother’s second marriage are as close to the Lickliders as the couple’s three children they have together. In fact, three of the kids were athletes and two served as managers on the track team under their parents. Ben took second in pole vault his junior year and Maggie held a record her freshman year at 10:15 in the 4×1800 relay. In addition, three of the five children have gone on to teach, with one also coaching track.
Dennis and Roberta supported each other on and off the field. Even though Roberta was another person on the coaching staff, she felt she had equal say and Dennis would listen and make the best, fair decision for the team as a whole. Roberta taught Dennis to remain calm in an angering moment and Roberta learned from Dennis to look for those teachable moments. Discipline was important but to do it in a way that allows that moment to take place with the most impact for the child.
“When we would get on the track workouts, they would run a time that was a personal best or run a relay time that was the best of the year; you could just see the happiness,” she said. “That is what I remember most from the seven state championships, all the smiles. They were so happy that they worked so hard and realized the dream.”
That dream earned the Lady Jays sprint team 93 individual and relay championships at the district and state levels, as well as seven state championships. Roberta’s athletes had 69 All-State (Top 8) performances, and areranked first in Missouri for numbers of athletes qualified for the state meet in all classes, most team titles, most consecutive team titles in Class 4 and most medals earned in all classes.
During the 24 years coaching boy’s and girl’s track and field teams at Jefferson City High School, Dennis saw his athletes post a dual meet record of 237-5 and win 106 major championships, as well as 40 district championships, nine state championships and 20 undefeated seasons.
That record of success allowed the JCHS track and field program to be inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. Little did Dennis and Roberta know they, too, were going to be inducted the next year.
“As we were walking away they announced that Dennis and Roberta Licklider will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in spring 2013. I said, ‘What did they say?’” Roberta recalled, laughing. “I knew my husband deserved it, but I didn’t think I was deserving. But it was a tremendous honor, and I was taken aback. … The team one is the big one. For me, that is where I belong, with everybody else.”
Roberta has immersed herself back into education since retiring, teaching students in a different environment than during her career. For seven years, she assisted in the Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson City’s after-school program at Pioneer Trail, and taught dance at Westminster College in Fulton for a few years. She also was a tutor for a few years in the homebound teaching program, which matched educators with teens who recently had babies, something she first got involved with before retirement when one of her athletes became pregnant and needed to graduate.
Substitute teaching is her main gig in retirement, allowing her to work in other aspects of the Jefferson City public school district she never got to experience before. She was able to use her master’s degree in guidance and counseling she earned in 1984 from the University of Missouri while subbing as a middle school guidance counselor, spot subbed and did long-term assignments at the alternative school, filled in as a behavioral specialist, taught at Nichols Career Center and worked in the high school library.
Roberta said she plans to substitute teach for another five and a half years, and her “fun money” from that job has previously helped send her daughter to Costa Rica to study, her family to Italy on vacation and Dennis and Roberta to Germany, Austria and Switzerland just recently.
“Right now, I’m saving for house renovations and Greece. That has been on my bucket list since the fourth grade: going to Greece,” she said with a smile. “We also have 10 acres here, so I garden and can. … When people ask me how it is to be retired, I said the power of no is intoxicating.”
Part of the home renovations is to refurbish the couple’s office in the next few years, with many of those awards set for storage, donation or recycling. But the connections they had with the students will never be forgotten.
“When you see their accomplishments, maybe just a small part of what you did maybe helped. You are just so proud of them. … When you discipline them, kids know that you really care about them. All those letters that I have, I never had one from a kid that says, ‘Thanks for letting me slide,’” she said. “It was always ‘I couldn’t see it at the time, but now that I’m older I know what you were doing and I understand. Thank you.’ … We have worked very hard, but we have been very blessed. I try to tell people that all the time, and I thank God for what we have.”